A Mother’s Worst Fear

by Monica M. and Debra M.

Regents Universe

Beatrice checked her 007 watch and despite the growing lateness she smiled. The watch had been a gift from Buck many years ago. Mother and son both enjoyed the James Bond movies, her young son gaining an early fascination for the incredibly gifted British agent who was irresistable to women. She knew the watch really didn’t blend in with her evening attire but she didn’t care. Even when forced to play the part of Montana Fontaine she liked to wear something that reflected who she really was. A mother as well an independant woman.

Tapping her elegant fingers on her and Gage’s reserved table at the Atrium restaurant, she sighed inwardly when a well dressed middle-aged man approached her and asked if he could join her. Smiling kindly yet firmly she declined stating she was waiting for someone. As the man retreated reluctantly she frowned and pulled out her cell phoning the hotel and Gage’s own cell numbers yet again. She met with the same result. No answer in the hotel room, and his cell turned off. She checked the watch again. He was more than an hour and half late and it was very rare for him. In fact she had never known him to be late. The anxious feeling accelerated and she was torn between staying where she was or driving to the hotel. Needing reassurance and advice she instinctively phoned Clint.

Clint Larabee was reheating some chilli for a late snack. He had a big day, however, curiously he did not feel tired despite not quite being back to full strength and fitness after being shot by Luis Cali during the siege at Regents. More importantly it had been an enjoyable day. He had met some of his fellow officers mid morning at the shooting range. His results were outstanding and it felt good to have his aim back better than before and to receive grudging praise from his friends. Afterwards they had lunch at the club and talked and relaxed. He knew they all admired the changes he was attempting to make in his life and even though nothing was said directly, they all supported him.

His phone rang and he threw a towel over his shoulder and answered it. He frowned as he heard Beatrice rush him with her worries in an uptight and breathless manner.

"Have you tried phoning him?" he asked when she told him what was troubling her.

He had to hold the phone away from his ear at her response. "Ok Ok!" he replied. "Just calm down for a minute," he continued and he heard her take several deep breaths.

"Sorry, Clint," she atoned.

"I’m sure everything is fine but I’ll check for you anyway, alright?" he offered.

"I’d really appreciate that," she replied and his own expression looked thoughtful as he could hear how deeply affected she was becoming over the man who was sending the letters.

"You stay where you are and I’ll call you back shortly, ok?"

"Yes, yes I’ll be here and thank you, Clint," she replied as she disconnected the line.

As the microwave pinged to announce that his chilli was ready, he began dialing the number for his police station.

"Cynthia," he greeted. "It’s me Clint. Listen, I need a favor."

A few minutes later he was eating his chilli but he never got to finish it. The phone rang again. Clint stiffened then looked deeply concerned as Cynthia relayed the information she had found for him.

"Thanks, Cynthia," he said softly as he lapsed into silence.

"No, no, I’m ok," he added when she checked to see if he was still there. "I’ll call you later ... and Cynthia... I mean it ....thanks ok."

He hung up and cursed loudly before running his hand through his hair roughly. Taking a deep breath he dialed Beatrice’s number.


"Bea, it’s me."

"Clint. Did you find out anything?" she asked apprehensively.

"I’m sorry, Bea. I did," he replied and winced as he heard her voice catch. "Gage is at the hospital," he continued.

"Why? What happened," she replied sharply.

"Hit and run."

"What!" she cried anxiously. "When?" she added before he could say anything further.

"An hour or so ago. Details are still unclear. Listen, Bea, do you want me to bring Buck to you?"

"No!" she replied emphatically already forcing herself to stand and make for the restaurant exit despite her myriad of tumultuous emotions. "No. Please Clint. Not yet. I’m going to the hospital now. I’ll phone Buck later."

"I’ll meet you there," he stated.

"Thank you," she whispered and hung up.

Picking up his car keys and coat he left.

+ + + + + + +

Clint strode through the doors of the ER, his keen eyesight scanning the room for her. He went to make enquiries at the nurses’s station then saw a large waiting room open up to the right. She was standing, rocking herself slightly, her arms clasped around her. She sensed him before he called to her and her face lit up with enormous relief as he walked toward her. As he reached her eyes filled with tears and she melted into him. He embraced her comfortingly rubbing her back gently.

"How is he?" Clint asked softly after a minute.

Beatrice lifted her head from his chest, straightened and stepped back, wiping the tears from her face.

"They let me see him for a few minutes," she replied, rummaging in her purse.

"Here," Clint spoke again, offering her his handkerchief. She accepted it gratefully and dabbed at her eyes. He took her arm and guided her to the seats. They both sat down.

"He wasn’t conscious. He has a concussion. They don’t know the extent of his head injury yet. He also has broken ribs, broken leg and severe bruising."

Clint nodded but said nothing except to take one of her hands in his. Beatrice turned and leveled a fearful gaze at him.

"Do you think it’s him?"

"I don’t know, Bea," he replied honestly.

"Who else would..." she began then broke off as she felt tears burn her eyes again.

"It could be a coincidence," Clint assured.

"You don’t believe in coincidences, Clint Larabee," she retorted, sniffing loudly.

He exhaled deeply. "I’ll talk to the officer in charge. Find out as much as I can."

She nodded gratefully then she frowned in thought. "I want to take Buck out of school, keep him with me, hire some protection," she decided.

Clint began shaking his head. "That’s not a good idea, Bea," he replied gently.

Pulling her hand from his she shot him an angry glare. "He’s my only son!"

"I know," he whispered.

Her anger dissipated into deep fear. "I couldn’t bear if something happened to him," she told him in an almost hoarse voice.

"We won’t let that happen," he assured her.

"Then it would be better if he was with me."

"If we want to catch this guy we can’t do anything out of your usual routine. He’s been watching you for some time. Taking Buck out of school, even for a short time, would tip him off. He’d hold back and do nothing. But he’ll still be there. Waiting," Clint explained wanting to be as honest as possible despite her distress.

She looked at him in dread and shivered slightly.

"I do think it’s time to tell Buck what’s happening so that he can be extra careful and wary of strangers." Clint told her after giving her a brief reassuring hug.

Beatrice looked horrified again. "It’s a just a precaution, Bea," Clint assured her. "I’ve read all the letters, he never once mentions wanting to harm Buck."

Beatrice nodded almost dazed like and returned to her own thoughts. "I’ll tell him after Halloween," she informed him after a long moment.

"I think you should sit down with him tomorrow and tell him everything including the letter from his father," Clint advised.

Beatrice began shaking her head vehemently. "No! Not yet. Not now."

"This Rick arrives in a few days doesn’t he?" Clint pushed.

"Or he could be here already," she reminded him.

"That we can check up on."


"But, Bea..."

"No! Buck’s all excited about Halloween and dressing up with his friends. I’m not going to ruin that for him," Beatrice argued. "And you said earlier everything should remain normal. You know if I told Buck what was happening he wouldn’t leave my side."

Clint knew she had a valid point. Just as Beatrice was devoted to her son, so was Buck devoted and protective of her.

"Alright, Bea," he conceded and she tried to smile thankfully but could only manage a weak lifting of the corners of her mouth.

"I’ll sit down with him on Friday and talk to him about his father. If he wants to see him over the weekend I won’t stop him but I will be going with him," she affirmed.

Clint was about to offer to accompany her to Louisville should Buck decide he wanted to meet his father when a nurse approached Beatrice. "We’re moving Mr. Morrissey upstairs now," she informed Beatrice and Beatrice thanked her.

Twenty minutes later he left Beatrice sitting beside Gage’s bed. The publicist was still unconscious and with his injuries, notably facial and head he didn’t look in the best shape. However, Beatrice seemed to be handling it better now that she had to provide strength for someone else. Letting her know he’d just be gone for a few minutes he went out into the corridor. Moving away so Beatrice could not overhear, he dialed.

"Cynthia. It’s Clint. What else did you find out?"

Wednesday October 30th

"Come on, Nate," Buck pleaded.

"You’re supposed to do your own homework, Buck," Nathan replied.

"Yeah I know but I’ve had other things on my mind this week," Buck admitted and Nathan studied him intently.

Like the others, he knew there was definitely something bothering their friend. Whatever it was Chris knew. He had read the body language between them. Usually Buck kept nothing from him. In fact there were times Nathan wished he never got to hear all the details of his roommate’s activities. However, he knew this was somehow different, so softening his stance, he replied, "Like what?"

Buck considered telling him, knowing Nathan was always easy to talk to and often had valuable advice. And truth be told he still hadn’t decided what to do. The longer his mother said nothing and the closer his father’s arrival got the more torn he became. However with first class starting in ten minutes, there wasn’t enough time to explain to Nathan and Buck was still unsure if he was ready to explain.

"I ain’t ready to talk about it yet, Nate," he replied.

"Fair enough," the junior replied not wanting to push. "I’ll help you with your homework, Buck, but I’m not going to let you copy mine. Mr. Larcombe would make the connection straight away."

Buck grimaced but agreed with a nod of his head. There was a knock on their door and Nathan opened it. One of the freshmen stood there. He looked past Nathan to Buck.

"Dean Parker wants you in his office, immediately," the boy reported before almost running back down the hall.

"What have you done now?" Nathan quizzed.

"I’ve done nothing I swear!" Buck declared and Nathan threw him a disbelieving look.

A few minutes later he knocked on the Dean’s door. Hearing the call for him to enter, he did tentatively and frowned uneasily when instead of the expected disproving face, the Dean looked at him sympathetically.

"Your mother is waiting to speak to you on the phone, Mr. Wilmington," Dean Parker told him as he stood. "I’ll be right outside," he added as he slipped from the room silently.

Quickly Buck picked up the phone.


"I’m ok," she said quickly hearing his worried voice.

"What’s wrong?"

Buck listened with growing shock as his mother explained what had happened to Gage.

"I’ll come to the hospital," he offered immediately.

"No darling please. There’s no need and I’ve only just got home from the hospital. I’ve been there all night. Gage regained consciousness and I’ve spoken with him. He’s going to be alright. The doctors assure me. I just need to get some sleep now," she explained.

"Are you going to the hospital later?"


"Then I’ll meet you up there after school," Buck stated firmly.

"Alright," she agreed knowing he would come anyway and that if she was honest she needed him there. "He’s in Ward 2B, second floor."

They spoke for a few more minutes until Buck was certain she was alright then they said their goodbyes. He barely listened when Dean Parker offered his support and when he slipped into class a few minutes later he hoped the day would go by quickly.

Wednesday, October 30th

The day did indeed go quickly. From the long conversations with his friends during the breaks about what had happened until the time he drove up to the hospital to be with his mother. While she appeared to be better than he expected he could easily sense she felt happier with him there. Gage insisted he was alright although it was obvious he was in a lot of pain. He hadn’t spent much time with Gage. He was well aware of his mother’s relationship with him and the times they were both at the house he got along with him well enough. As long as he treated his mother well he was fine with them seeing one another. He always made sure his mother’s boyfriends knew that. Although spending time with his mother and Gage in the hospital room he recognized a deepening of feelings between them and wondered if either of them were aware of that themselves.

After several hours Beatrice insisted Buck travel back to Regents. She assured him she was fine and she didn’t want him missing sleep or school. Upon his return he found all the boys in his and Nathan’s room waiting for him. The looks of genuine concern heartened him greatly and he answered all their questions appreciatively. Half an hour before lights out he told them he wanted to go and make a phone call and he left them to walk down the two flights of stairs to the bank of phones in the dormitory foyer. He pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket and stared at it for a long minute before he resolutely picked up the phone, waited for a dial tone and punched the correct numbers. The phone answered within three rings, he asked for the right room and took a deep breath as he was connected.

J.D. padded down the stairs. He had been hanging around in the corridor waiting for Buck’s return to make sure he was alright before he went to bed. When he didn’t appear he decided to go down to the foyer. He could hear Buck’s voice talking and as he reached the bottom flight of stairs, he could hear the words clearly.

"Ok, Dad... I’ll see you tomorrow around four... Yeah I got that written down room 720... The Holiday Inn...I-64 west exit 15... got that too."

J.D. froze in surprise as he caught the catch in Buck’s tone as he spoke the word ‘Dad’. The impact of what Buck was saying rushed over him along with the realization that he shouldn’t be eavesdropping. As Buck had his back towards him he slowly and quietly turned as Buck’s last words echoed around the small foyer

"I’m looking forward to meeting you, too."

J.D. heard the sound of the phone being put back in the receiver and tried moving faster. He wasn’t fast enough.


J.D. screwed up his face and cursed himself under his breath. Exhaling he turned around to face Buck.

"I’m sorry, Buck. I wasn’t checking up on you... well I was, I guess... but I mean I just wanted to make sure you were ok," J.D. babbled quickly.

Buck took the steps two at a time until he was level with the freshman. He quickly looked around to ensure they were alone.

"How much did you hear?" Buck asked holding the younger boy’s gaze.

J.D. swallowed heavily but answered honestly. "I know you’re meeting your dad tomorrow."

Buck sighed and J.D. continued. "I think it’s great, Buck. Do you want me to come with you?" he asked eagerly.

"No. I’ll be alright by myself," Buck replied.

"Oh," the younger boy replied, clearly crestfallen.

"Don’t go telling the others, ok. I’ll tell them afterwards," Buck told him firmly.

"Sure, Buck," J.D. assured him as Buck moved up the stairs. He waited a second, sighed then followed.

After he had said goodnight to Buck and the others, he walked to his room and got himself ready for bed. As he got under the sheets and turned the light out, he contemplated what he wanted to do. His mind made up he turned on his side and drifted off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

Jake Ballinger had bought every newspaper and watched all the local news. Gage Morrissey’s escape from death was only documented in the newspapers. The police reported no leads and no motives. Jake paced the lounge room of his apartment reliving the exultation and empowerment he’d felt from the previous night.

Even the disappointment that Morrissey had lived never damped his jubilation. He had done it once he could finish it anytime he wanted. He’d plan another way. He would be meticulous, patient but in the end Gage Morrissey would be finally eliminated like the unwanted obstacle he had become.

His success inspired him. Dared him to move forward with his other plans. Morrissey could wait. He now had another obstacle to take care of. He would need to bring forward his arrangements to tomorrow but it could work. At least he could follow, wait and watch, and if the opportunity arose, he would take it.

Tomorrow. He could do it tomorrow.

Halloween Day Thursday October 31st

"Where are you going?"

"It doesn’t matter where I’m going, just cover for me. One class. That’s all, ok?" Buck replied irritably.

"I don’t like this Buck. Are you in trouble?" Nathan countered.

"No! No! I swear I’m not in trouble. I just need to take care of something personal," Buck assured.

Nathan’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "This isn’t about some girl is it?"

"No, it’s not. I promise you," Buck replied and he held Nathan’s intense stare unflinchingly.

Nathan exhaled deeply. "Alright, Buck, but you better tell me what’s going on later."

"I will, Nate. I will," Buck promised.

"If anyone asks I’ll say you felt sick and went to your room to rest," Nathan told him and Buck nodded gratefully.

Close to the time he wanted to leave Buck snuck out to the dormitory parking lot. As he approached his Mustang he shook his head as he saw J.D. standing resolutely beside his car. When Buck was only a few steps away J.D. spoke.

"I’m coming with you!"

"J.D., I can’t take you. I’d get into trouble taking you off campus without permission," Buck replied.

J.D. rolled his eyes impatiently. "Like anyone would notice. Today especially," he added referring to the Halloween excitement that had reverberated around the school all day.

Buck continued to look unconvinced. "I’m coming with you," the freshman stated again firmly.

They argued further but in the end Buck simply did not have the time to argue any longer nor did he have the heart to do that to J.D. So in the end J.D. hid while Buck handed over a forged pass to the security guard and they headed for the I-65.

Buck explained about the letter and how he found it which subdued J.D. for a little while. The fact that Beatrice didn’t know Buck was going to see his father worried him. However, he put it aside and was soon chatting happily about all kinds of subjects and Buck had to grin appreciatively. It distracted him from the nervousness about his impending meeting and for that he was thankful.

+ + + + + + +

Buck exited the elevator and strode down the hallway. Without hesitation he knocked loudly on room #720. The young man managed to keep himself well composed though his thoughts were far from that. During the elevator ride up it had occurred to him that he had no real idea about what his father was like. His mom had shown him old photographs of when they had been young and in love. But even then, Buck had a hard time looking at them. The photos plainly showed the love and joy that the two teenagers found in each other. So that made it even more difficult for their son to understand how his father betrayed Beatrice so completely. It was a bitterness that he still felt in the pit of his stomach, though he desperately wanted to give his dad a fair shot, to hear his side of the story and see if somehow he could understand and then maybe even forgive.

And Buck also wished that he could have talked this over with his mom. Even though he knew that she had not told him about this letter from his father, Buck could not help but feel guilty that he had not told her about coming to see him. And he had almost admitted it to her the other night at the hospital. But there was no way he could have told her without having to ask her why she had kept the letter from him. And he knew that she was far too distraught for him to add anything on top of it. But he always imagined that if he ever did meet his father, Beatrice would be here with him. That she would act as a link between father and son who had never laid eyes upon each other. Now they would both have to bridge a wide chasm of time and silence and hope that somehow they could meet in the middle. Buck even considered simply going back home, but he had never run from anything before in his life and he could not start now.

He heard someone approach the door from inside the room and then the door opened and Buck looked into the face of his father. In the awkward silence they looked at each other, seeing physical similarities even though they both looked at a stranger. Their build was the same, though Buck had an inch or two in height on his father. He had already known from the photos and from his mother telling him, that he had his dad’s eyes, but it was still a shock to look into them and see his own staring back at him. And then Buck noticed that his father now had a mustache, thick but well groomed.

Rick looked at his son and could not so much see himself but Beatrice. The eyes were his own, but the sparkle from the joy of living that filled them was all her. The lips that were also his were now slipping into a friendly, easy-going smile that was the full incarnation of Beatrice’s crooked smile. His stamp was clear upon the physical aspect of their son but her spirit and personality were embodied within him.

The silence stretched between them and they both began to feel its uncomfortable touch. Neither knew if they should hug in greeting, shake hands, or simply make no empty gesture at all. Finally Rick cleared his throat roughly and spoke, "Hello, Buck. Come in."

The teenager nodded and as he stepped inside nervously blurted out, "But I can’t stay long. I’ve got a promise to meet my friends for a party tonight."

"That’s alright, Buck. Maybe if I get some more free time, I can come down and see you," Rick responded as he motioned for his son to sit in one of the two chairs in the small hotel room. "Do you play any sports?"

The question took Buck by surprise only because of the fact that he was the quarterback on the school team had been mentioned in the newspaper article attached to the letter Rick sent. Either his father had quickly forgotten or had simply not paid attention. "Yeah, football," he managed to say.

"Football? That’s great! The Chargers are having a great year. I haven’t made it to a game yet, but I hope to." Then remembering that Buck probably did not consider the San Diego Chargers his home team, Rick added, "And the Colts are doing pretty well, too."

Buck nodded with a weak smile. "Yeah, and that’s alright with me. But my team is Green Bay."

Confusion swept over Rick at that answer. "You and your mom lived in Green Bay?"

Buck smiled fully then and shook his head. "Nope, never stepped foot there. See, Mom wanted to make sure that since I was living in a house full of women, that I still had a ‘healthy’ interest in sports. And seeing that Vegas didn’t have a team of their own, she told me to just pick one to follow. And out of the blue, I picked the Packers and I’ve followed them faithfully ever since."

The confusion was now washed away by disapproval on Rick’s face. "It must have been hard for you. Living that way."

Buck laughed hard. "Nah, it was the only way I knew. And I loved it! We were family!" The teenager’s eyes widened and he winced as he realized that might not have been the smartest thing to point out.

Rick heaved a sigh and regarded his son for several long thoughtful moments. "I’m sorry, Buck. I know that can’t mean much to you now, after all these years. But I am truly sorry."

Buck knew that they did not have long to talk, but he had not expected it to turn so serious so quickly. There was a part of him that wanted to tell his dad that it was okay, that he forgave him. But there was a bigger part of him that needed to understand first. "Why didn’t you want to have anything to do with Mom? With me?" His voice was soft, whispery and broken.

To his credit, Rick did not flinch from the question. "I was selfish."

Buck knew it was an honest answer, but it was far from satisfying. "So why now?"

Rick looked down at his feet. How could he explain that he had made a mess of his life, that he was thoroughly dissatisfied with just about every aspect of it, and that there was next to nothing of which he was proud. At least until he had come across the photo of Buck and his friends and read the accompanying article in USA Today. Then he had found pride because it was his son who had stood up against that druglord. He had wanted to try to get in contact with him from that very moment, but he could not find the courage. But when he learned his sales seminar would be so close, he had taken it for a sign.

Rick briefly looked back up at Buck but had to look away when those eyes were searching his so intently. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. How could he explain anything about his life to this young man who had probably never known a moment’s shame in his life. Even now, Rick had the feeling that even if he were suddenly blessed with the eloquence to explain everything to Buck thoroughly, that his son would still not understand. The fact that he had defied the druglord spoke of Buck’s convictions, and that he had done it with his friends, spoke of his loyalty. No, his son could never understand it because it went against everything that he believed in. And as he recognized all this, Rick felt both deep shame and intense relief swell within him; shame that his son had inherited none of that from him, and relief that he could be reasonably certain that Buck would never make the same mistakes he had.

"’Cause I’ve finally come to see what a mistake I made and I want to stop making it," he finally answered.

Again Buck nodded as he recognized the truth of the statement but still found it dissatisfying. Deep down he supposed he had always known that it would be like this and that had been the reason he had never tried to see his father either. There were just no answers that his father could give him that he could find acceptable.

Still Buck was desperate to make some kind of connection to his father, to be able to take something away with him when he left. So he changed the painful subject. "So what kind of seminar is this exactly?"

Rick smiled, grateful for the boy’s generous nature. "Sales. You could say I sell farm equipment."

Buck tried to cover his surprise but Rick saw it and he laughed. "No, it wasn’t exactly what I planned on doing when I was young." He eyed his son. "You’ll be graduating in another year. What do you plan on doing? You going to college?"

"Yeah, but only long enough to get the courses I need to enter the Police Academy," Buck answered honestly.

Rick blinked. "You want to be a cop? Have you told your mother?"

"Yes to both questions. And yeah, she wanted me to do something less dangerous. But she also wants me to live my own life and make my own decisions. And this is what I want to do," he responded adamantly.

"But with your mother’s money you could…"

Rick did not get to finish his thought as Buck quickly cut him off. "Money has nothing to do with it. I want to be a cop because it’s something that I know I will be good at and it’s something that really makes a difference."

"I can’t believe that Beatrice would allow this!"

"It’s not up to her to decide. And it certainly ain’t for you to decide," anger began to touch Buck’s voice.

Rick either did not hear it or simply ignored it as he shook his head. "I should have known that Beatrice would be too permissive. I mean, look at the way she raised you, the lifestyle she exposed you to…"

Again Buck interrupted his father’s words, "’The lifestyle she exposed me to’? And just what lifestyle are you referring to? A loving and happy one? Cause it certainly was that. And how can you even talk about the way Mom raised me when you didn’t even raise a hand to help her?" The anger and hurt was clear now as the young man stood up and towered over his father.

Rick stood up as well, not liking the feeling of being stared down upon, especially from his son. "I know I left your mother little choice, Buck. And I’m sure she did the best she could. But the truth is that…"

"The truth is that she did her best. And if you keep on talking like that, I’m gonna keep on deciding that I was probably better off never knowing you." The words flowed out of Buck as did his anger, leaving him breathing harshly from the vehemence of both.

Rick sank back in his chair. The truth was that even if he was standing eye level to his son, the young man still towered over him. He was simply too good of a man. Like Beatrice he would probably never be deterred or dismayed by the obstacles that life thrust upon him. He would simply find a way to keep on living, to keep on doing what had to be done simply because it was the right thing to do. Rick could never make the same claim; he had given up far too long ago.

"You’re right, Buck. I had no right to question how your mother raised you or how she lets you lead your life," the words were quiet, the sounds of a broken man just realizing how badly broken he truly was.

Buck nodded but he was suddenly unsure about what all was happening. Uncomfortable, he said, "I should be getting back to school. Like I said, I have to meet my friends…" He trailed off simply not knowing what to say anymore.

Rick looked up at him and then rose once again to his feet. He reached out and offered his hand to his son. "I understand and I’m glad I got this opportunity to meet you, Buck. I can’t lay claim to the title, but you are a son to make a father proud."

Buck eyed the hand waiting for him to clasp it. Then his eyes met and searched the ones that were a mirror image of his own except for the depth of sadness that filled them. He knew that his father was expecting this to be the first and last time that they ever met. And that had been Buck’s intent only a few seconds ago. He had a feeling that there was a great deal going on in Rick’s life. And he figured that maybe Rick needed to make a connection with him almost more than Buck had thought he needed. Buck’s generous nature could not ignore that, so he took the hand in his own but did not shake it. Instead he pulled his father to him and gave him a hug. He closed his eyes against the emotions that welled within him when Rick returned the hug tightly, like a drowning man grasping a lifeline.

Finally the teenager extracted himself from the embrace and regarded his father. "I’m glad I got to meet you, too." Buck looked around the room as he came to a decision. "I’ve got a game Saturday night at eight o’clock. If you can make it, you’re welcome to come."

"I can’t promise that I can make that, but thank you for the offer, Buck. I would like an opportunity to talk to you some more," Rick answered.

"I’d like that." Buck was surprised to find that those words were true. His father had made some bad decisions, that much was obvious, but he could not hold them against him for the rest of his life. After all, he had his mother and she was all he really needed and he knew that she would always be there for him. So with that truth always in his heart, Buck knew that Rick could never disappoint him again. The power had shifted from father to son; Rick now needed him more than the son needed his father. But Buck was never one to abuse power or responsibility. So he was offering his father a tenuous connection, a guideline across the chasm of years and silence. It was up to Rick to follow it, but if he did, Buck would be there to welcome him.

+ + + + + + +

With everything that had been going on in the last couple of weeks, Beatrice had been a little apprehensive when she had received a fairly large package Halloween morning. But then she had seen the return address and she knew exactly what it was. As soon as she had found Buck’s request for her help in finding a Bigfoot costume for Josiah, she had quickly set about trying to find anyone who could help her out. At first it had been a nice way for her to keep her mind off of everything else that concerned her. She had just not been prepared for how hard it would be to find a Bigfoot costume. She had no idea how many phone calls she made. In fact she could not even exactly remember the trail that had led her to finding it either. There had just been too many dead ends and too many wild goose hunts. But in the end she had found someone in a costume department who she could work out a deal with to get the costume on loan. Fortunately Josiah was a big boy and she did not think that it would have to be altered to fit him.

So after her visit to Gage at the hospital ran long, Beatrice rushed over to Regents. She knew the boys were supposed to meet at six before heading over to Clint’s to get dressed. She could not blame them for wanting to get away from the school to get into their costumes. When she had first read Buck’s note she could not believe that they were actually dressing up. It had been years since Buck had last gone trick or treating. Her heart warmed and a reflexive smile crossed her face at the memories of past Halloweens. She knew there would be some who frowned upon the costumes that Buck had worn and found them inappropriate for a little boy. But what other little boy could have possibly worn a sheik’s costume and actually have a ‘harem’ of Vegas ‘showgirls’ take him trick or treating. All that had mattered to her was that she and her ‘family’ had a great time and that Buck was certainly not worse off for it. In fact, she believed that he thrived under all the attention and affection that he had received.

As she pulled up in the front drive of the school, Beatrice smiled as she saw five of the boys waiting for her. She had security at the gatehouse call ahead for her so that she would not have to go around searching for Buck or the others. She frowned though when she noticed that neither Buck nor J.D. were with the others.

The boys crowded around the car as she brought it to a stop. She returned their greetings as she stepped out of the car. It was always so good to see them and be around them. "So are you boys ready to go trick or treating?" she teased.

Chris shook his head at her but did not reply. Her smile brightened though when she saw her words brought a slight flush of embarrassment to the lean Texan of their group. She tossed a wink at him even as Nathan responded for them all, "We’re going to a party, ma’am, not trick or treating."

"Well that’s probably a good thing. Because if you had Josiah wandering around the streets in this costume, I think there would be a flurry of new Bigfoot sightings," she laughed.

"So you did manage to find it?" Josiah asked.

"Yes, it just came in this morning. For a while there I almost thought that the closest that I could come to it would be getting the costume from Beauty and the Beast. But even then I don’t think the Disney Store would have your size."

Josiah cocked his head to the side as he considered that costume. "I think I would have preferred that. There was at least a soul within that ‘monster’.

Beatrice laughed out loud at that and it felt good to laugh again. "Oh I hadn’t thought of that. So I guess this is not really good news for you, is it?"

Josiah grinned. "I don’t mind so much. Buck had told me that if you couldn’t get a costume for me that he’d get a sheet and I could go as a ghost."

She tried to stop the giggles that bubbled up within her at the image of Josiah wandering around in a ghost costume. She doubted that any sheet draped over his head would fully cover him, so he would probably have been a ghost with teenage legs and feet sticking out. Suddenly reminded that she did not know what the others were going to be she turned to them. "And what about the rest of you? What are your costumes?" Her eyes went first to Chris.

He looked back at her with half lidded eyes but the smirk on his face was about as good-natured as it could get. "Johnny Ringo," was all he said.

Beatrice’s brow furrowed slightly as she tried to place that name. She knew that Chris was testing her by just supplying the name and not a description. But it did not take long for her to remember where she had heard it. She could not count the number of times that Buck and Chris had watched the movie Tombstone. "Oh you’re going to be a bad guy. That suits you in a way."

Chris simply rolled his eyes at her, but Beatrice immediately turned her attention over to Vin. "And you?"

"Buffalo Bill Cody, ma’am."

Beatrice loved the way that Vin was always so polite and proper whenever he spoke to her. The first time he had called her ma’am it had shocked her because she simply did not consider herself old enough to be ma’amed. But after the initial shock had worn off she admitted to herself that it was refreshing to meet a teenage boy who was respectful in a completely genuine manner.

Now this name she was not at all familiar with so she asked, "Who’s he?"

"He was an army scout and a buffalo hunter, then a famous showman," he answered.

Beatrice nodded as she started to get a feel for who he meant. "Well you and Chris had better be careful. You just might find out how much the girls love cowboys."

Vin ducked his head as he chuckled at her remark. "Yes, ma’am, we’ll be careful," he responded to her teasing.

She turned her attention then to the strangely quiet southerner. Ezra seemed to be finding anything and everything of interest except their conversation. "And who are you going to be, Ezra?"

When they turned to her, his green eyes were incredibly unimpressed. "Gambit."

Beatrice smiled, but she looked around to the others in her confusion. "Gambit? Who or what is that?"

"He’s an X-man," Josiah explained, "from the comic books."

"Ezra’s going to be a superhero?" Beatrice asked in disbelief.

"Actually Gambit’s a mutant," Chris pointed out, earning a glare from the southerner.

"Okay, you boys are taking pictures aren’t you? Because I have just got to see this. So you either have to take pictures or come by so I can see you. And of course so I can give you candy." That earned her groans from all five of the boys.

"There will most certainly not be any photographs, Miss Wilmington," Ezra’s tone indicated that there would be no negotiating this point. "And like Nathan stated earlier, we will not be trick or treating."

Beatrice’s smile was placating as she then looked over to Nathan. She was a woman who was used to getting her way. She would simply have to find a way to get photographs of the boys.

"I get to be Mace Windu," Nathan responded to her unasked question.

"Oh I like that for you, Nate. Although, you know that Mace was bald, soooo…" she ended suggestively.

"Yeah, I know. And J.D. actually took care of that. He got me a bald cap," Nathan said reluctantly.

"Oh I think you all will look wonderful," she gushed. Then as she remembered something else that Buck had wanted her to take care of, she looked over at Ezra again. "And don’t worry, Ezra, I spoke to the guard at the gate and let him know that it would be alright to allow you off campus this evening with the others since you would be chaperoned by me and Officer Larabee."

The sophomore’s jaw dropped before he was able to compose himself and protest, "But that is an untruth!"

Beatrice smiled to herself. He simply looked gorgeous when he could not believe that he had been outmaneuvered. "What’s a little untruth between friends?" she asked with a laugh. "Besides, I’m sure you’ll be on your best behavior."

Vin and Chris exchanged looks. Neither one of them had even thought about Ezra’s probation that limited his ability to go off campus. From the southerner’s reaction they decided that he must have been counting on that to help get him out of having to wear his costume. They would both have discussions with Ezra on this issue at a later time. For his part, Ezra simply sighed and gave in to the inevitable. It was far too late to start his sick routine.

A frown marred Beatrice’s beauty as she again looked around the campus and still did not see her son. "Where’s Buck and J.D.?" she asked suddenly.

Josiah glanced at the others before answering, "Actually we thought that Buck had gone to pick up my costume from you. And we just figured that J.D. had gone with him."

Beatrice felt her blood go cold. "You mean he isn’t on campus?"

"We don’t think so," Josiah answered honestly.

Chris could see Beatrice’s concern almost immediately. And with everything that she had gone through in this week, with her boyfriend nearly being killed in a hit and run, Chris felt compelled to tell her the truth. So with a toss of his head and a hand gesture he motioned for Buck’s mother to step aside with him. Beatrice looked nervously at the other boys, but none of them seemed to know what was going on either. Only Nathan seemed a little uncomfortable when her gaze fell on him and Beatrice’s worry jumped almost astronomically as she stepped over to Chris.

"Where is he, Chris?" she demanded.

"He went to see his father."

"He what?" she almost shrieked in her surprise and fear.

Chris reached out and laid a comforting hand on her arm. "He found that letter that Rick sent you asking for a chance to meet Buck. He didn’t understand why you hadn’t told him. I told him that maybe you were waiting until it was closer to the time that Rick would be here. So he waited to see if you would ever say anything to him. And then the accident happened to Mr. Morrissey and Buck didn’t want to bother you with it anymore. So he called Rick last night and he was supposed to meet him this afternoon. But he should be back soon. He promised everyone that he wouldn’t miss this." The senior’s eyes that were always so hard and unflinching were now filled with comfort and sympathy.

Beatrice ran her hand through her hair. It was all her worst fears coming together all at once. She still did not know if she could trust Rick Simon and now her son, who had learned that she had kept something so very important from him, was going to meet him alone. But she tried to be strong. She did not want to worry Chris and his friends. They would want to go with her and she could not allow that. So she nodded, hiding her fear under the pain that Chris knew she would feel at Buck doing this on his own.

"Do you want to wait with us until he comes back?" the senior asked, concern filling his voice when she still had not responded.

"No, I’d better go. Have him call me as soon as he gets back. But you should all enjoy your evening. Buck and I will have a long talk about all this later," she managed to say with a very weak smile. She could see that Chris was unconvinced by it, but he was not going to push the issue. "Thank you for telling me, Chris."

He nodded, accepting her praise though he believed he was only doing the right thing. He followed her back to her car where she reached in and handed the package to Josiah. "I’ve got to go now, boys. You be careful out there tonight, but have fun. And I do mean it when I say I want to see you in those costumes." She tried to sound light and carefree, but even she could hear the tightness in her voice and she was sure they could read the worry on her face. But none of them mentioned it if they did. Instead they said their farewells and a few even promised to get by her house sometime this evening. Beatrice hoped that it was a promise they would be able to keep, all seven of them.


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